Wednesday, June 29, 2016

The Moth Women Vigilantes Hall of Infamy (Part 1)

Wanting to explore the possibilities of the archival Pigment Markers Winsor and Newton have invited me to try, I've set myself a little project. Its focus is the Moth Woman Vigilantes, the nefarious gang of masked women who sporadically appear in my linocuts, zines and one soon-to-be artist book.

Drawing from a lifelong love of cinema, I've been working on a series of pigment marker drawings in a small sketchbook. Photographic portraits of a variety of screen actors, some of them dating back to the silent era, were points of departure for a new group of Moth Women Vigilantes.

My choice of markers: black, white blender, colourless blender and a range of warm and cool greys, reflects the bygone era of the silver screen.


A rebel herself, Louise Brooks is a worthy inductee to the MWV Sisterhood. One of the cinema's finest actors and also a superb writer, Brooks is best known for her indelible portrayal of the seductress Lulu in Georg Wilhelm Pabst’s master work, Pandora’s Box (1929). She is equally commanding as the title character in Pabst’s, hard-hitting social drama, Diary of a Lost Girl (1929). For film enthusiasts, Brooks's remarkable essays, collected in the book Lulu in Hollywood (1982) are an essential read.

Reinvented as a member of the MWV, Louise Brooks is pictured above, with W&N markers providing a sense of scale. 


Russian-born Alla Nazimova immigrated to America in 1905. She was a distinguished theatre actress who specialized in the works of Chekhov, Turgenev and Ibsen. (Dorothy Parker, a frequently acerbic critic not given to gushing) proclaimed her the greatest Hedda Gabler she had ever seen). Nazimova also forged an impressive career in silent films, making a number of successful features for Metro Pictures (the forerunner of MGM) in the 1920s.

In recent years I acquired a copy of the Greta Garbo movie, Camille (1936). A bonus on the DVD is Nazimova’s visually arresting version of the same story, made in 1921. The early Art Deco production and costume designs by Nazimova’s friend, Natacha Rambova (future wife of the film's co-star, Rudolph Valentino) are astonishing. In many ways I prefer it to the justifiably celebrated, but more conventional 1936 film.

Another woman ahead of her time, Alla Nazimova joins the growing ranks of Moth Woman Vigilantes in this second Winsor and Newton pigment marker exercise. 


The initiation of screen and stage actor Bette Davis into the prestigious Moth Women Vigilantes Hall of Infamy is long overdue.

A favourite movie of mine is All About Eve; it's distinguished by a diamond-sharp script and a fine ensemble cast. But the standout performance is delivered by Bette Davis. She's so damn good as Margo Channing it's hard to believe that she wasn't the first choice for the role (it was originally intended for Claudette Colbert). My personal list of favourite Davis films is far too lengthy to fit here, but also includes Of Human Bondage (1934) Dark Victory (1939) The Letter (1940) The Little Foxes (1941) and Now, Voyager (1942).

In her long career, Davis frequently lived up to her reputation for being difficult. Like the Moth Women Vigilantes, she didn't suffer fools gladly and always fought long and fierce for what she believed in. Davis sought for truth and honesty in her roles. Moreover, she was never afraid to appear unsympathetic or unglamorous - never more so than in her portrayal of the grotesque, crazed title character in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962). Reputedly she even did her own makeup for the film.

With the exception of her newly acquired MWV mask, this Winsor and Newton Pigment Marker drawing shows Bette Davis much as she appeared in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? right down to the insect brooch adorning her beret.


The fourth W & N Pigment Marker drawing celebrates screen and stage actor Myrna Loy.

As is the case with many a talented actor, Hollywood took a long time to know what to do with her. In many of Loy's early films, she was stereotypically cast as femme fatales, Asian or Eurasian characters, for example, the evil daughter of Boris Karloff in The Mask of Fu Manchu (1932).

In 1934 she appeared opposite actor William Powell in Manhattan Melodrama, best known as the film notorious gangster John Dillinger viewed just before he was shot dead outside the cinema. (Allegedly, Loy had been his favourite actress).

Myrna Loy had already made over eighty movies before she appeared in the Thin Man (1934). The movie, based on Dashiell Hammett's celebrated detective novel, would jump-start her career. 

Initially head Louis B. Mayer refused to cast her opposite William Powell as urbane husband and wife sleuths Nick and Nora Charles. He regarded Loy as a solely dramatic actress, not capable of handling the film's sophisticated comedy scenes. But director W. S. Van Dyck recognized her latent comic gifts and held out for her.

Loy and Powell would prove to be one of cinema's longest-lived pairs. They went on to make another twelve films together, including five sequels to the Thin Man, between 1936-1947.

Throughout the series, Nora is Nick's equal. She matches him in intellect, guts and nerves, wisecrack for wisecrack, cocktail for cocktail. Their natural, easygoing rapport, mutual respect and affection (which Loy and Powell shared in real life) rang so true that many people mistakenly believed they were really married.

Despite her long, distinguished career, Loy was never nominated for an Academy Award, an oversight deplored by the Moth Women Vigilantes. Believing the Honourary Oscar she received in 1991 was too little, too late, they have awarded her their highest honour: induction to the Moth Woman Vigilantes Hall of Infamy.